Nav: Home

The age of the Earth's inner core revised

August 21, 2020

By creating conditions akin to the center of the Earth inside a laboratory chamber, researchers have improved the estimate of the age of our planet's solid inner core, putting it at 1 billion to 1.3 billion years old.

The results place the core at the younger end of an age spectrum that usually runs from about 1.3 billion to 4.5 billion years, but they also make it a good bit older than a recent estimate of only 565 million years.

What's more, the experiments and accompanying theories help pin down the magnitude of how the core conducts heat, and the energy sources that power the planet's geodynamo -- the mechanism that sustains the Earth's magnetic field, which keeps compasses pointing north and helps protect life from harmful cosmic rays.

"People are really curious and excited about knowing about the origin of the geodynamo, the strength of the magnetic field, because they all contribute to a planet's habitability," said Jung-Fu Lin, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin's Jackson School of Geosciences who led the research.

The results were published on Aug.13 in the journal .

The Earth's core is made mostly of iron, with the inner core being solid and the outer core being liquid. The effectiveness of the iron in transferring heat through conduction -- known as thermal conductivity -- is key to determining a number of other attributes about the core, including when the inner core formed.

Over the years, estimates for core age and conductivity have gone from very old and relatively low, to very young and relatively high. But these younger estimates have also created a paradox, where the core would have had to reach unrealistically high temperatures to maintain the geodynamo for billions of years before the formation of the inner core.

The new research solves that paradox by finding a solution that keeps the temperature of the core within realistic parameters. Finding that solution depended on directly measuring the conductivity of iron under corelike conditions -- where pressure is greater than 1 million atmospheres and temperatures can rival those found on the surface of the sun.

The researchers achieved these conditions by squeezing laser-heated samples of iron between two diamond anvils. It wasn't an easy feat. It took two years to get suitable results.

"We encountered many problems and failed several times, which made us frustrated, and we almost gave up," said article co-author Youjun Zhang, an associate professor at Sichuan University in China. "With the constructive comments and encouragement by professor Jung-Fu Lin, we finally worked it out after several test runs."

The newly measured conductivity is 30% to 50% less than the conductivity of the young core estimate, and it suggests that the geodynamo was maintained by two different energy sources and mechanisms: thermal convection and compositional convection. At first the geodynamo was maintained by thermal convection alone. Now, each mechanism plays about an equally important role.

Lin said that with this improved information on conductivity and heat transfer over time, the researchers could make a more precise estimate of the age of the inner core.

"Once you actually know how much of that heat flux from the outer core to the lower mantle, you can actually think about when did the Earth cool sufficiently to the point that the inner core starts to crystalize," he said.

This revised age of the inner core could correlate with a spike in the strength of the Earth's magnetic field as recorded by the arrangement of magnetic materials in rocks that were formed around this time. Together, the evidence suggests that the formation of the inner core was an essential part of creating today's robust magnetic fields.
-end-
The National Science Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China supported the research.

The research team also included Mingqiang Hou, Guangtao Liu and Chengwei Zhang of the Center for High Pressure Science and Technology Advanced Research in Shanghai; Vitali Prakapenka and Eran Greenberg of the University of Chicago; and Yingwei Fei and R.E. Cohen of the Carnegie Institution for Science.

University of Texas at Austin

Related Magnetic Field Articles:

Magnetic field with the edge!
This study overturns a dominant six-decade old notion that the giant magnetic field in a high intensity laser produced plasma evolves from the nanometre scale.
Global magnetic field of the solar corona measured for the first time
An international team led by Professor Tian Hui from Peking University has recently measured the global magnetic field of the solar corona for the first time.
Magnetic field of a spiral galaxy
A new image from the VLA dramatically reveals the extended magnetic field of a spiral galaxy seen edge-on from Earth.
How does Earth sustain its magnetic field?
Life as we know it could not exist without Earth's magnetic field and its ability to deflect dangerous ionizing particles.
Scholes finds novel magnetic field effect in diamagnetic molecules
The Princeton University Department of Chemistry publishes research this week proving that an applied magnetic field will interact with the electronic structure of weakly magnetic, or diamagnetic, molecules to induce a magnetic-field effect that, to their knowledge, has never before been documented.
Origins of Earth's magnetic field remain a mystery
The existence of a magnetic field beyond 3.5 billion years ago is still up for debate.
New research provides evidence of strong early magnetic field around Earth
New research from the University of Rochester provides evidence that the magnetic field that first formed around Earth was even stronger than scientists previously believed.
Massive photons in an artificial magnetic field
An international research collaboration from Poland, the UK and Russia has created a two-dimensional system -- a thin optical cavity filled with liquid crystal -- in which they trapped photons.
Adhesive which debonds in magnetic field could reduce landfill waste
Researchers at the University of Sussex have developed a glue which can unstick when placed in a magnetic field, meaning products otherwise destined for landfill, could now be dismantled and recycled at the end of their life.
Earth's last magnetic field reversal took far longer than once thought
Every several hundred thousand years or so, Earth's magnetic field dramatically shifts and reverses its polarity.

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.